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I saw Blade Runner for the first time on the end-of-the-Summer Friday night of September 2, 1988. I remember it with such accuracy because, at a time where there were only two TV channels available, and I still had no VCR at home, the premiere on television of any movie was greeted as an event – and so did, on this occasion, the people I was having dinner with. Truth is, at my still somewhat tender age, I hadn’t heard of the film, but one of the main roles was played by the actor who had previously played Han Solo in Star Wars (the FILM; not ‘A New Hope’, not the Star Wars Universe or any of that mumbo-jumbo). So I sat in front of the TV, still some two years too young to truly enjoy it. Certainly, the film impressed me, although not in the way one would hope for. A couple of years before that I had fled from a morning projection of Blade Runner’s coetaneous Escape from the Bronx (1983), Enzo G. Castellari’s sequel to his own Escape From New York exploitation film 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1990: I guerrieri del Bronx, 1982), whose crudeness -incredibly tame for today’s standards, I’ll freely admit- proved to be too much for my youngster sensitivity. That experience had an echo that night, while watching Scott’s film, which granted me several disturbing moments. From that session I kept, engraved in my retina -and my brain- the indelible image of Zhora going through several layers of glass store windows in her plexiglass raincoat, which became less and less transparent as the blood escaping her body impregnated it. I also remember with a similar ambivalence the mixture of repulsion and morbid fascination that the grim porcelain doll look of a very young Sean Young caused on me; or the final scene with Rutger Hauer, majestic in full Norse god magnificence, reciting his semi-improvised monologue on a rainy roof surrounded by blue light.

None of this happened to me some -very few- years later when, also at night, but this time on my own  and with some more – although still meager – knowledge and maturity, I finally watched Scott’s previous film, Alien (or Alien, the eighth passenger, in my case , in one of those rare moments of brilliance of the usual ‘creative translation’ of original film titles for Spanish audiences). That is: the fascination was there, of course, but in this case, it was not a morbid mixture of attraction and repulsion, but the pure aesthetic delight of those who experience something for the first time with the growing awareness of being in front of a masterpiece. I must say that this did not happen to me with Blade Runner, not even some years later, when, in the somewhat more reasonable condition of having some previous knowledge of the film and being halfways -more towards the second half, really- of my architecture studies, I rewatched it in order to help a colleague with some coursework. Don’t get me wrong. Blade Runner is one of the films I have most extensively (and often) discussed, one of my favorite films, a milestone in the history of cinema -indisputable if we’re talking about science fiction cinema-, and an icon of postmodernism that has generated rivers of ink, with some minor branches fed by yours truly. I neither confirm nor deny I may have devoted a chapter to it in a PhD dissertation at some point in the past.

However, whilst Alien is a film that works with (Swiss) clockwork precision, Blade Runner is a more irregular effort. Scott’s second film -let’s not forget he had already directed the beautiful The Duellists, which provided him with the Best Debut Film in Cannes in 1977- was a prodigy in the control of cinematographic tempo and footage economy Blade Runner presents an uneven success in the handling of pace, and a clunkier narrative. Alien toyed with the spectator, presenting him with a morose pacing, slowly building tension and then throwing him into an adrenaline-boosted rollercoaster. Blade Runner, on the contrary, is burdened by an occasionally choppy montage and an erratic narrative, full with scenes that drag on screen, whose purpose is not always clear. When it first hit the theaters, viewers often complained about the difficulty to follow the otherwise ridiculously simple plot. Alien had been a filmic prodigy in many respects, ultimately upgrading what had begun as a B horror movie set in space to the category of small cinematic gem. Three years later, with a budget three times bigger, Blade Runner was conceived as a much more ambitious enterprise. Here, Ridley Scott left the megastructural but still somewhat modest inner architectural ecosystem of his second film, and took over the visual creation of a complete world: the megalopolitan continuum of Los Angeles in the -yet to be- future of 2019. However, this expansion in the scope did not lower its level of demand when it came down to the detail in which this fictional world had to be presented to the viewer. Blade Runner was built using the same layering1 method he had applied to the design of The Duelists (1976) and Alien (1979): an accumulation of data in which each frame of the film was crowded with layer upon layer of information. This diogenetic strategy of visual design overwhelmed a viewer unable to apprehend everything that on display, which ultimately resulted in an unbearable feeling of veracity. The images in the film did not look like a set, like a staged, but limited imitation of reality built for the eye of the camera. They looked like real environments whose complexity exceeded the viewer’s ability to apprehend them in their entirety. They were too full with information; they seemed to extend beyond the limits of the screen, equally detailed and complex everywhere the camera bothered to point at; like the real world.

This excessive ambition would also take its toll in the film. If Alien, despite its relative yet limited variety of sets, exuded coherence in his visual treatment, in Blade Runner the team led by Douglas Trumbull had no other option but use all the tricks in the book in order to address Scott’s growing demands, which ended up instilling the fictional reality of the film with a certain collage nature on2. Blade Runner/ Los Angeles 2019 is a film/ place made up of juxtaposed moments/ spaces whose connection, as in the Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, is left to the discretion of the viewer’s imagination.

And yet, it would be this multiple, oversaturated, fragmented condition that would ultimately result in the film’s seemingly inexhaustible ability to both represent postmodern reality, and fascinate audiences and the Academia alike. Back in 1982, Blade Runner shook the filmgoing world with a future-present (a 1980’s future) that was presented to the viewer with overwhelming physicality; a dark but palpable future, which would lead to paradoxes such as the curious Stockholm Syndrome described by Norman M. Klein in 1991, when he wrote that: “(i)n February, 1990, at a public lecture series on art in Los Angeles, three out of five leading urban planners agreed that they hoped someday Los Angeles would look like the film Blade Runner …It has become a paradigm for the future of cities, for artists across the disciplines3.” November 2019 is here, and the reality on the other side of my window is just as ominous as the one described by Scott, but much less fascinating. To make it worse, the same can be said of the one on the other side of the -now predominantly digital-silver screen.

See? See why I hate Blade Runner?

1 “Alien’s ‘environment’ was the popular filmgoing public’s first exposure to “layering”, Scott’s self-described technique of building up a dense, kaleidoscopic accretion of detail within every frame and set of a film. ‘To me (Scott Said) a film is like a seven-hundred-layer layer cake.” Paul M. Sammon, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner (New York: HarperPrism, 1996); 47.

 2 Norman M. Klein, “Building Blade Runner” in Social Text, 1990, no. 28; 147. Yes, I know I’ve quoted this text at least as many times as Rowe’s ‘Introduction with Five Architects’. Well, as Eric Idle, in full Michelangelo attire would say: ‘It works, mate!’

“Por qué Odio Blade Runner.” Arquine. Revista Internacional de Arquitectura. ‘Lo que Falta / Missing Pieces.’ Mexico DF: Editorial Arquine, Julio 2019. Nº 89, pp. 23-25.

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So, now that November 2019, the year Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (you know, the REAL one) is set, is over, I thought it might be worth remembering the film through this installment of my section ‘Arquinoir’ in Mexican architecture magazine Arquine. I haven’t translated the texts in the cartoon so far. Later, perhaps. The Spanish version can be found online here. Although I strongly suggest buying a physical copy.

 

 

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Architecture Between the Panels. Page 2. Click to enlarge.

Ok, let’s kickstart, even if a little late, the academic year. with a new entry

Last July, Architectural Design (AD) published Re-imagining the Avant-Garde: Revisiting the Architecture of the 1960s and 1970s’. Guest edited by Matthew Butcher and Luke C. Pearson, this special issue ‘explores the ongoing importance of the work of Architects associated with the Avant-Garde of the 1960s and 1970s for today’s designers and artists.’ The issue features contributions by Pablo Bronstein, Sam Jacob, Sarah Deyong, Stylianos Giamarelos, Damjan Jovanovic, Andrew Kovacs, Perry Kulper, Igor Marjanović, William Menking, Michael Sorkin, Neil Spiller and Mimi Zeiger, and Jimenez Lai, among others.

Knowing how much I like this time period and its architecture, Luke and Matthew were so kind as to ask me to contribute. So I joined my usual partner in crime, and together we put together a dual contribution of both a text and a Scott-McCloud-esque visual essay/graphic narrative under the title “Architecture Between the Panels. Comics, cartoons, and graphic narrative in the (New) Neo-Avant-garde, 1960-2018.”  Both the text and the article deal with the many ways in which the language of comics, cartoons, and graphic narrative at large were used by the 1960s avant-garde, and how a younger generation, whose work can be related to the work produced by those architects, are also fostering a determined comeback of these very representation tools.

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Architecture Between the Panels. Pages 1-4. Click to enlarge.

The article(s) features many of the usual suspects, such as Archigram, Superstudio, Archizoom, Street Farm, or Rudolf Doernach, but also some lesser-known forays into comics by well-known figures such as Mark Fisher (see my homage from a few years ago here), and Piers Gough, together with Stuart Lever, or Diana Jowsey. Amongst today’s practices, you can find the ubiquitous Jimenez Lai and Wes Jones, CJ Lim, Steve McCloy, Mitnick+Roddier, FleaFolly, Luke Pearson himself, and many others.

As usual with my work, the four pages that make this entry are impossibly cluttered, although this time I may have reached my own limit due to a major rehaul of the piece that took place halfways thru it. My original plan was to feature just the works from the ‘60s, but -very understandably, to be honest- the editors felt the piece should include current practices too, which led to an almost imposible density. Still readable, though. With a magnifying glass, perhaps.

I’ve included some snippet views of the pages for you all to get a taste of what you’re missing by not having read the issue yet. So, open a new tab in your browser and buy yourselves a copy already!

 

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Another blast from the past. As I was going through a checklist of my cartoons for Uncube, I found out I hadn’t posted this one, either. Some backstory: back in January 2016, Uncube was planning to put together an entire issue on Zvi Hecker (and more: check AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN – ZVI HECKER’S HOUSING DREAM), one of those visionaries who toyed with non-Cartesian geometries back in the ’60s, and actually got to build his designs (along with fellow Israeli architect Moshe Safdie and a few others). Being the sucker I am for all things 1960s/70s, I was glad to contribute a piece. Also, December 2015 was the time where Star Wars was (somehow) brought back to life, via the incredibly mediocre The Force Awakens. Being the sucker I am for all things science fiction, I couldn’t let the opportunity to throw in lots of Star Wars references in. Bjarke Ingels then came in to add the necessary starchitectural element. Enjoy!

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #41: Zvi Hecker edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al. I’d check it right now, if I were you. Honest.

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Sir Peter Cook -the man, the myth, the ringmaster- points at Peter Cook, the comic book character during a dinner in Porto.

Anyone who’s thrown even a casual glance at this blog (or at my twitter feed) knows I have a thing both for science fiction and for the visionary architectural scene of the 1960s-70s -which, of course, have multiple overlaps. And, of course again, it is not particularly (as in ‘at all’) surprising that Archigram are a favorite (see below), which at some point even prompted me to go in a demented search through tens of thousands of comics from the 1940s to 1964, in order to find the sources of Warren Chalk’s ‘Space Probe!’, published in Archigram 4, May 1964 [INSERT: a couple of them can be seen here; some others are featured in this article; if you’re a curator and need help with this, send me a note. END OF INSERT].

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My hand and my comic book, but not my copy of Archigram 4, unfortunately…

Thus, when last year Alejandro Hernández and Pedro Hernández (not related) contacted me to give them a hand with a -then- upcoming issue of Arquine under the topic ‘Futures’, I couldn’t let that great opportunity slip away, and used my Arquinoir section (published in almost every issue since 2014 or so) to finally draw a story that had been waiting in my sketchbook for a while. In it, Peter Cook and the late but great Ron Herron met inside the Walking city and… well, you can read it below (if you’re not proficient in Spanish, Google Translate has improved quite a bit through the years).

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Two Archigrammers walk into a bar Walking City and…

And, of course again (again), when I learnt that we would be having dinner at the same table, I couldn’t help but give him a copy, which he read with a great dose of sense of humor. I’m not sure Yael Reisner found it that funny, but she smiled politely, and was kind enough to grant me with a great conversation about beauty and architecture on the way back to the hotel. A big thank you to Carlos Machado e Moura, Noémia Herdade Gomes, and Rui Neto, and the School of Architecture of the University of Porto for the invitation  to lecture and for their kindness.

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Glimpses of the future(s)

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #22: Water, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Elvia Wilk et al, which focuses on Water as a design material, and gathers everything from Matthias Schuler to the Hoover Dam or rei Otto. Federico Fellini, Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ and Archigram’s Warren Chalk may not seem to go hand in hand to everyone, but in my mind, it makes perfect sense. Maybe that speaks tons of the way it works. More on that later. Maybe not.

This cartoon was drawn on May 2014, which marks the 50th anniversary of the original publication of ‘Amazing Archigram 4: Zoom Issue’, where ‘Underwater Zoom’ was a whole section. Happy Birthday! An exhibition may be in the works.

Clog - Rem - It's not easy being Kool

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“[…] For those who were already, let’s say, ‘architecturally active’ in the 90s, the second half of the decade featured an increasing presence of Koolhaas-isms in the architecture published  by architectural media. Be it young offices paging Bakema through the Educatorium (those ubliquitous ‘single surfaces’ Jeff Kipnis still chitchatted on in his lectures more than ten years later), forests of tilted pilotis, cheap rubber surfaces or else, OMA’s supposed ‘house style’ had permeated through a whole generation that made justice to the old Spanish writer’s adagio: “Blessed are our imitators, for theirs will be our flaws”. Because, notwithstanding their varying degrees of success, none of those byproducts of OMA’s discourse seemed able to grasp its spirit. And it still goes on… monkey see, monkey do.

But, which is this discourse? Certainly, Koolhaas’ scant prose is, within its own scarcity, rich in suggestive, elusive terms: Manhattanization, Junkspace, Bigness -and you really know you have made it when Hal Foster writes a review of something like the Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping [ii]. However, as in Foucault’s Other Spaces/Hetrotopias, these are texts and terms that one seems to be able to make less sense of with each subsequent reading. All in all, it seems just a private a game, carefully designed to keep his audience intrigued while feeding his own legend by building an aura of impenetrability, to the point that one’s tempted to believe that every move is carefully staged: His carefully careless lectures, his unsophisticated, even clumsy descriptions of his own buildings, or his nervous, uncomfortable responses in interviews, all contribute to enlarge the halo of mystery that surrounds him. And, as I deduce from his always packed , rock-star-like conferences, it definitely works.

Five years ago, I published the first ‘Hope’ cartoon, with Mr. K posing as Shepard Fairey’s Obama. Five years later, I still wonder how many people did not get it was a joke.”

[i] See Heron, Katrina: ‘From Bauhaus to Koolhaas’ in Wired issue 4.07, July 1996.

[ii] See Foster, Hal: ‘Bigness’, in London Review of Books Vol. 23, no. 23, 29 November 2001.

Klaus: It’s not easy being Kool – 2001 ways to misinterpret Koolhaas… and help him have it his way (excerpt) in VV.AA: Clog: REM, June 2014.

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So, in a sort of smart, happy and -also- inevitable move, the guys at Clog magazine sort of celebrated their 3rd anniversary (really, 11 issues already??) with their issue CLOG: REM, just in time for the Biennale. They also thought –as, apparently, everyone else– it was sort of inevitable to ask me to contribute. Of course, they were particularly entitled to, since they made sure to have me in Clog from the very beginning. Just  click on the “clog” tag in this very site and you’ll get the idea. Also, they decided to open the issue with my contribution, which was very nice on their part. Thanks, guys! Oh, and a tip of the hat to Benjamin Greaves (@MrGreavesSaysfor providing me with the title.

P.S.: For those among you who may have noticed, I’ve made a point of celebrating the 5 anniversary of “On Starchitecture” by using vriations of the “Hope” cartoon on all my contributions published around the time of the Biennale’s opening (all of them revolving about REMdamentals, of course). So far, you can check “Fundamentally… Myself” (in Spanish) in Mexican Magazine Arquine #68, and Keep your eyes open for Uncube #24: Mexico City.

It's not easy being Kool

Clog - REM - Cover - back cover

CLOG: REM, with contributions by Michael Abrahamson, Stan Allen, Joseph Altshuler, Serafina Amoroso, Haik Avanian, Cecil Balmond, Dorin Baul, Aaron Betsky, Petra Blaisse, Jim Bogle, Ole Bouman, Mat Bower, Eric de Broche des Combes, Brian Bruegge, Galo Canizares, Stephen Cassell, Archie Lee Coates IV, Rene Daalder, Ozge Diler, Ryan Drummond, Keefer Dunn, A. A. Dutto, Erez Ella, Valeria Federighi, Kim Förster, Jeffrey Franklin, Joseph Godlewski, Adam Himes, Matthias Hollwich, Julia van den Hout, Frances Hsu, Bernard Hulsman, Hans Ibelings, Klaus, Charlie Koolhaas, Tomas Koolhaas, Andrew Kovacs, Jimenez Lai, Stephanie Lee, Thomas Lozada, Winy Maas and Jacob van Rijs, Brandon Martinez, Isaac Mathew, Kyle May, Philipp Oswalt, Roberto Otero, Steven K. Peterson, Wim Pijbes, Jacob Reidel, Michael Rock, Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola, Fernando Romero, Alejandro Sanchez, Mika Savela, Jonathan A. Scelsa, Kyle Schumann, Brian Slocum, Galia Solomonoff, Frederieke Taylor, Will Thomson, Madelon Vriesendrop, Luke Yosuke Willis, Human Wu, Albena Yaneva, Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Zoe Zenghelis

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